Data collection is one of major activities in research. The importance of data collection is such that the use of inappropriate or inadequate data collection techniques can jeopardize the effectiveness of the research process. There are definite data collection methods in both primary and secondary research. The choice of data collection method depends on the characteristics of the data to be collected, the research design and the intended use of the data. The data collection process has to be planned thoroughly, and has to involve immense patience, perseverance, and hard work in order for the task to be completed successfully. Different instruments are also used to collect different types of data hence the need to be fully aware of the data needs prior to planning. The primary and secondary data collection methods are described, each with its strengths and limitations. The ethics of research are also presented.
Data Collection Methods
The types of data collected in research are broadly categorized into qualitative and quantitative data. Qualitative data pertains to non-numerical and mostly descriptive or nominal. The data usually captures information such as perceptions, feelings, beliefs and attitudes of participants (Paradis et al., 2016). The quantitative data on the other hand, is mostly numerical in nature and is used to describe empirical results. Depending on the targeted data, different methods can be used for the collection of primary and/or secondary data.
Primary Data Collection Methods
Various methods exist for the collection of primary data. Primary data collection methods are further classified into various subgroups including questionnaires, interviews, observational studies, experimental methods, and statistical methods (Baral, 2017). The questionnaire data collection method is a survey technique that entails the use of a series of questions as prompts to gather information from participants. Questionnaires come with various advantages including the flexibility to use different types of questions in different formats, capacity to collect large quantities of both qualitative and quantitative data, the information can be collected from any number of people without any effect on the reliability and validity, and the ability to analyze the data numerically even in combination with other forms of research (Kabir, 2016). On the other hand, the limitations of questionnaires include the challenge of collecting data on perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs of respondents; difficulty in telling how truthful a respondent is; and variability in the interpretation of the questions across different respondents.
Interview data collection processes involve asking participants questions directly during a study. Interviews can be of different forms including individual interviews, face-to-face interviews, group interviews, and interviews mediated by electronic devices (Kabir, 2016). Additionally, the interviews could be unstructured, semi-structured or structured depending on the research objectives. The biggest advantage associated with the interview data collection method is its ability to collect a vast amount of data given the ability to dig for more detail from the respondents. The amount of detail given will depend on the needs of the researcher. Additionally, the method allows the researcher to collect information on the emotions, beliefs and even attitudes of the respondents by following up on the non-verbal cues in addition to the verbal cues during a face-to-face interview (Paradis et al., 2016). Information given through the interviews also helps the researcher to understand a process rather than the final outcomes as reported in questionnaire surveys. On the other hand, interviews are considered not to be the perfect method for all types of research. According to Paradis et al. (2016), planning interviews can be complicated, particularly recruiting participants. Coding and extracting information from interview results can also be a time consuming process that requires keenness and perseverance.
The focus group method can be likened almost to the group-interview method due to the similarities in probable actual data collection practices. Hox and Boeije (2005), describe the focus group data collection method as a technique of primary data collection in which a small group of individuals with homogenous characteristics is brought together to discuss certain subjects of interest during the study. The data is collected using semi-structured interviews techniques with group participants. The approach is more suitable for ethnographic studies and has various advantages including: the applicability in exploring social cultural values, understanding common beliefs and practices, and exploring complex social issues (Baral, 2017). The focus group method can also be used in developing hypotheses for further research. The limitations include: lack of privacy, the probability of biasness as a result of ‘group think’, and it is time consuming to conduct and to analyze the data (Hox & Boeije, 2005). Researchers have to determine whether these limitations have no negative impacts on their findings in order to confirm use of the focus group technique in data collection.
Another major data collection method in primary research is the observation method. Observational methods of data collection are commonly used where the research questions answer what or how questions. The approach involves prolonged stay in a given social environment, observing the actions, decisions, communications and moods of participants without interfering in any way without their conventional lifestyle (Baral, 2017). In most cases, there is no communication to the targets about the ongoing research to avoid behavior modification. Observational data collection can be further described as structured, naturalistic, non-participant, participant, and non-structured observations (Driscoll, 2011). The choice of the particular method to be used will depend on the research objective. The method comes with multiple advantages including freedom from researcher bias, high generalizability, high reliability, and high precision. On the other hand, the observer misses much of the interaction; it ignores the process and ignores the spatial and temporal contexts of data collection (Driscoll, 2011). The observation method is used extensively in exploratory research as a result of its advantages.
Secondary Data Collection Methods
Compared to primary data collection, secondary data collection is often quite simple and less time intensive. Both quantitative and qualitative secondary data is easily available, especially in the age of the internet where the data does not have to be from printed sources. Secondary data is collected from a variety of sources such as books, published, printed sources, newspapers and magazines, periodicals, published electronic sources, and websites among others (Johnston, 2014). The choice of data sources depends on the targeted information and the use of that information.
Ethics in Research
While collecting and using both qualitative and quantitative data for primary and secondary research, various research ethics have to be adhered to. According to Yip, Han, and Sng (2016), research ethics is an instrumental element at all stages of research from data collection through to the distribution of the information. Research ethics foster the attainment of research objectives. Additionally, the research process involves many people and in most cases, collaboration is required between the involved parties. Adhering to research ethics promotes values that facilitate collaboration between the parties involved in the research and thus aid in supporting the research initiative (Kamat, n.d.). One of the most important research ethics is the need for informed consent. When working with human participants in all categories of research, those participants have to give their informed consent for participation. The informed consent shows that the participants have made the decision to be involved in the research while fully aware of its objectives, process and the expected outcomes, and that they have willingly accepted to be participants without any coercion (Fadare & Porteri, 2010). All researchers have to ensure that participants give their informed consent and only work with those who have confirmed their willingness.
Secondly, the issues of confidentiality and anonymity are core ethical values in research. In most cases, the information obtained from research is shared without any attachment of participant names or other specific details that would result in victimization. In most primary research data collection processes that directly involve participants, codes are used to substitute the participant names and thus foster anonymity in research (Kara & Pickering, 2017). Additionally, other confidential information such as residential addresses, contact details, or even medical conditions of the participants has to be kept in private to avoid misuse by unauthorized personnel. Other values such as objectivity, non-discrimination of participants, integrity, carefulness in handling participants and their data, honesty and responsible publication are also mentioned as part of the ethical concerns during research (Resnik, 2015). For secondary data collection practices, respect for copyright laws is the ethical issue of concern. Researchers ought to use only materials that have been authorized for public use, or gain the authorization of past authors/publishers to use non-open source materials (Tripathy, 2013). Where reference is made to previous research, there has to be an effective citation of the original source for the sake of professional integrity.
The choice of research methods requires a consideration of different factors, key of which is the objective of the research and the type of data to be collected for the actual research. Similarly, there are varying data collection approaches including interviews, questionnaires and surveys, focus group discussions, and observational practices for primary data collection; and data extraction from different sources for secondary studies. The choice of method depends on the objective of the research, the type of data and the characteristics of participant populations. For each of these data collection methods, adherence to research ethics is mandatory, and researchers have to keep the details of participants confidential. The participants also have to sign an informed consent form prior to engaging in research activities.
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